Summer of Senior Year: Cancer and Chemo

Someone once quoted the infamous sanity quote, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” The words melted to my soul like butter. July will mark my fourth year as a forever changed mind, body and soul.

Four years — does this mean I am a mature cancer patient? Someone on the brink of their senior year…in cancer? I’m not sure. It’s difficult at times for me to keep my blog updated simply because when you have nothing to say, add, update about, life as a cancer patient can be pretty boring. I mean, there is the possibility of keeping a consistently updated log of my Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon and overall storage of my Apple TV. But, that would just further prove that I am a hermit that rarely leaves the house.

As of late, I am a little quieter. I like staying in, not in a depressive way, but in a sanctuary sort of way. I’ve become more introverted in my older days. But, needless to say, without continuing to ramble— it’s good to be back.

And the truth is, I’m sick. I’ve been doing the same things for the past four years. Four years of chemo, four years of life altering surgeries, four years of telling my story, sharing my life and trying to figure it all out, while entering my thirties. I don’t regret any of the things I have chosen to do in terms of treatment for the past four years, nor do I regret any of the surgeries I have opted to have as a risk to save my life. Longevity, qualities of life are all things I’ve strived for in the past few years, an A+ student in the school of cancer. A peer group I never expected to be a part of, and then I was and I couldn’t imagine my life otherwise. Certain surgeries were more difficult to have, one being the hysterectomy I had thirty days after my thirtieth birthday. I laugh at myself now, because that was only the beginning.

How can it get much worse than having finality to your reproductive capabilities at the start of my third decade? My rock bottom was yet to come and would make my hysterectomy trauma seem like it was two foot small.

December, as many of you who keep up with me know that I took a huge chance with a surgery called HIPEC. Sorry, I can’t remember what it stands for, nor could I be bothered to “Google IT”. So, that said HIPEC was done in December of 2016 and I have spent the last four to five months recovering. I’ve been dealing with an array of issues. You could pretty much say I was sliced down the center, again and scar tissue from other surgeries had settled in, making my recovery even more painful. There was a collection of other issues peppered in, as my lower abdominal muscles were in a constant state of spasm, working against each other, thus creating a war on the inside. This lead to a number of bladder issues, as in, I constantly feel like I have a UTI when I in fact do not. Basically, I’m your average shit-show.

However, as time would have it I began to heal. From the inside out and I was feeling pretty f*cking groovy. Lighter, leaner, more energized, free. It was a feeling that was so nostalgic but also so unfamiliar. FOUR YEARS! I forgot what it was like to feel slightly healthy and normal.   It nearly felt too good to be true. And it was. The sensation didn’t last long. The OCD cleaning and tidying habits that I had suddenly formed began to fade, as my loss of control was again getting the best of me.   Something was up, and surprise, I was due for my first post surgery pet scan. It had been nearly five months at this point. New evidence of disease was a high possibility, but I was feeling so good. So well. So me.

It wasn’t until the night before the results, when I bent over to pick up one of Zoila’s toys from the floor. I had a twinge of pain in my lower left abdominal area; think of where ovaries would be, if I still had them. It was all too familiar and a feeling that I had felt in the past when there had been tumors residing in that very spot. The very next day, I followed up with my Oncologist who confirmed that the PET Scan did indicate evidence of disease in my lower left abdominal area. Bingo! As per usual, my gut was telling me the truth, physically and intuitively. He said I would immediately need to begin chemo in an effort to diminish it. When he walked in the door his face said it all. He believed, like so many of us that this HIPEC surgery was going to potentially provide me with an opportunity to stay off of chemo for some time, even perhaps making my cancer disappear altogether. We were all hopeful, but unfortunately it was back and apparently unbeknownst to me at this point, it was back with a vengeance. Rock bottom was right around the corner.

The beginning of summer beckons for graduations, pool parties, friends and family gathering and obviously a new outfit for each of the occasions. I was feeling summer in my bones, but it wasn’t about to feel me.   The first party of the summer season and I spent 99% of it with my head over the porcelain throne. Thankfully the hosts and their guests were gracious and kind, but certainly not the way I wanted or had expected to be starting out the summer. The summertime just before I was hoping to graduate from cancer. Move on and up— get some freedom, go college bound with this thing.

Unexpectedly, but expectedly all at the very same time, everything was the same as it had been.   Nothing was going to change in the maturity I was feeling with my cancer path. I knew nothing that was ahead and needed to buckle up because as intuition would have it, my current stock was about to plummet.

After being unable to keep anything, including water down, it was decided that entering Mayo Hospital would be the best next step. At this point I knew there was cancer activity on my left side. Chemo was set to begin that Monday and it was now Sunday in the Emergency Department. Immediately, the Doctor’s admitted me into the hospital, yet it remained unclear as to what exactly what was wrong. They didn’t take long to figure it out. My colon had collapsed onto itself, not allowing for proper ventilation to go through. My body was getting to a point where it didn’t know what to do with food. It would reject everything because the colon was collapsed and nothing could pass. Bile was exiting in the opposite direction and it was becoming septic and toxic.

Once they cracked that part of the case, they followed up to tell me that my cancer has metastasized to the lower part of my liver, a first for that spot, and then also on my lower back lymph nodes.   This was a shock to hear. Hadn’t I only just found out that it was back in the first place and now these additional places? Pure devastation ensued. The Doctors then had to implant a gastro tube in my stomach, where I would be able to “ventilate” the broth I would be drinking until the end of time. Not to mention the TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition) — pretty much intravenous feeding that provides patients with all the fluid and the essential nutrients they need when they are unable to feed themselves by mouth.

Boom! Rock bottom. There, I felt it.

Eating can be one of my favorite past times. How long was this dreadful nightmare going to continue? FOOOOOODDDDD.

It’s been two weeks since I have had a solid meal. I feel the most inhuman I have felt thus far in my cancer sitch. They are expecting it to be at least another few weeks, two months, maximum. It all comes down to how I respond to treatment, as chemo begins next week. It reeks of freshman year of cancer all over again.

Essentially, I had a good month where I was feeling like my old self. Now my reality is that chemo is going to be in my life yet again. But, needless to say, even with this shit-show that I call my life, I know I am going to be okay. Nothing’s going to change my world. I’m going to continue to get out of bed every morning, slap on a smile and enjoy the blazing summer sunshine. I may not be able to meet up at a restaurant hot spot with friends for a while, or wear my cutest bikini to the next summer bash, but I am going to be the BEAST that I am and knock cancer out this round as well.

Imma’ graduate this next year. So long, cancer. You’ll see.

Britt xx

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SIX THINGS: Holiday MAGIC + DIY

Holiday decor for the timely challenged, like myself, has recently left me feeling blah about getting in the spirit of all things merry and bright.  With surgery being two weeks ago, I had every intention of decorating prior to my operation.  But lets be real, that did not happen.   We realized that our tree, sparkly things and fancy disco DIY garlands made from previous years, were in our storage unit, along with our hoards of vintage furniture. And so it goes and here we are. No big deal, you might say. But, in typical Steve and Britt fashion, we lost the key to the unit.

So, from personal experience — it is possible to spread a little holiday magic dust around your house, by using non-traditional item.

We did just that.

SIX THINGS:  Holiday MAGIC + DIY


ONE:

Candles

I’m a sucker for collecting interesting candle holders — particularly the ones from local shops where the glass is recycled, reused and repurposed.  Once the original candle is dead over alive, I simply put ice in it, set it in the freezer for the day, remove in from the freezer, flip it upside down, leaving the remnants fall right out.  From there the glass holders can be a versatile piece of decor around your home.  For the holidays, I placed two sparkly, red candles in some of my favorite recycled holders.  With the S. Pellegrino as a green backdrop and the red candles gives in their new homes, our house has a little holiday representation on our bar cabinet.


TWO:

Holiday Wreath

What can I say?  I’m also a sucker for some succulents and decided to turn  an “every day occasion” wall decoration into a beautiful, silver and gold door “wreath”.  Once the holidays have come and gone, I will be able to continue to use the succulent hanging by simply removing the poinsettias and ornaments.  Dingdong!   HOLIDAYDIY + SUCCULENTS + COST EFFICIENCY.  Sounds like a year round embellishment knocking on the door.


THREE:

Zoila Christmas Dress

Dress up your pup.  I would have never imagined in a squillion years I’d be that lady.  You know, the ones who dress up their dogs. And in Christmas costumes at that.  BUT, I surrender.  I’m officially that girl and I have accepted it.  How could I not?  Red sequins, a white fur collar — all on an adorable, seventeen week, mini-sausage dog.  She would make even the Grinch feel a sense of holly jolly.

Although, Zoi hates me and this dress.  FACT.


FOUR:

Plamtree Lights

In our home, we are all about having bits of greenery year round.  We live behind a beautiful Japanese garden and get an amazing amount of sunshine through the glass doors and terrace of our condo.  Since living here, we have had many indoor plants to give our space an indoor/outdoor vibe.  Throwing a string of lights on one of your larger,sturdier plants that you already own will give that instant glow  and charm of Christmas.  Thus giving you all the holiday feels. A bonus is that you can save a tree, time, money and energy all in the name of a winter celebratory decor.


FIVE:

Holiday Cookies

I’d vote that I’m the least domestic person in the world.  I don’t cook, bake and I am sure that if I did, people would be running for the hills.  Not that I can blame them, but there is something about Christmas cookies. Perhaps it’s the everlasting memories of  my Mum making her famous sugar cookies’; the cookies that I look forward to all year.  Although the cookies above are not my Mum’s, or mine for that matter, I purchased a cheap dozen of grocery store cookies and placed them on a cake stand and on display on the counter.  The visual of something that is season relevant can bring an inexpensive, cheery and dare I say delicious touch.


SIX:

Take little ornaments and place them on some of your every day home accessories.  Above I found the Christmas ornaments we received as our first year as Mr. and Mrs. Ochoa.  Sentimental value holds no bounds and warms you to the core when thinking back on fond memories of Christmases past.


Cheers,

Britt x

#HospitalLife – In Pictures:

I am beyond thrilled to share that I have arrived HOME!  Late last night they determined that I was fit enough to return home and all of my efforts of putting up the fight of my life, certainly seems to have now paid off.  There is quite a descriptive post in the works, to walk through my latest health journey in words and how I feel that I have once again been afforded a chance at life. This has been an entirely transformative experience and one that I never imagined in my wildest dreams.  Somehow, my strength and resilience is at an all time high and because of that I have been peacefully healing —- mind, body and soul.

Here are a few pictures of the

#HospitalLife

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My hemoglobin levels were considerably low, in which case I needed a blood transfusion.  It never really dawned on me how wonderful it is that people donate blood, something I have always been too ill to do even prior to my diagnosis as I have always been anemic.  I ended up using two units of blood which ran for about six hours.  Shortly after I felt like a completely different person; less fatigued, less cold and returned color to my face.  Thank you to those who donate!

Red Cross Blood Bank Centers

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The day of my surgery I snapped an #instax polaroid of my baby, Zoi.  It seemed obvious to me that if I had her adorable little mug looking at me with those eyes of hers, it would push me to do everything in order to make it back home to her.  Aside from all of the tremendous amounts of love I received from people near and far, my amazing friends, family and of course my husband — Zoila was the one little (but actually very HUGE) incentive to show up, kick ass and get back on the road of life and viola! here I am!

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Anyone who follows along on my Instagram knows that my baby Godson holds the actual key to my heart.  He stole it from day one.  When his beautiful mom — my lovely friend, Michele visited at the hospital the day after my surgery, she brought along a one of a kind flamingo and it instantly brought ridiculous amount of smiles — and not just from me, but all of the staff, fellow patients and anyone who saw my trusty IV monitor as I wheeled it by my side throughout my stay.

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I’ll admit, my biggest complaint about surgery is that you are forbidden the basic human need of drinking water (or anything for that matter), prior to the procedure.  In my case, I was told that I couldn’t have anything from midnight until later in the night after recovery.  Quickly, my mouth became a desert and my need for water seemed like life or death.  Of course that is an exaggeration, but it is certainly how I felt.  As soon as I got the green light, which was about twelve hours later, I ordered “sips and chips” and I felt like I stumbled upon an oasis.  Dreamy does not even begin to describe the feeling of when the ice water cooled my lips for the first time.  Sometimes it really only takes the small things to make you feel a sense of nirvana.

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Before I had even been transported to my room, my two best girls had flowers ready and waiting.  Prior to my surgery, I couldn’t find the strength to speak to them.  Distancing myself for selfish emotional reasons seemed to be the only way I could cope.  I felt that if I spoke with them, I might expose that I thought I was going to die and that we’d never have an ABC reunion again.  Without fail, they stood by my side no matter what and made sure that I knew they were there with me, showering me with their love and non-stop support.   I love you both.

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I felt so much power behind this operation.  Power from prayer and positivity and all of the amazing thoughts that were put out in the universe in honor of getting through this operation with a successful outcome.  I feel cheesy every time I say it, but there is no way I would have been able to do it without all of you.  Every single person that took it upon themselves to take the time out of their day to wish me well and include me in their conversations with whomever they have faith in.  It would be fair to say that I feel endlessly blessed.  Seeing this gleaming photo at St. Joe’s Hospital and Medical Center seemed like a fitting vision for the morning after the operation.  What a beautiful sight to see (I can even see my neighborhood if I look really close).  

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On the same glorious walk as pictured above, I was marching along the halls with the most important women in my universe.  They guide me through every struggle and challenge and proudly walk by my side, even in the darkest of hallways.  There are not many words that can do this picture justice, other than, thank you and LOVE.

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Further exploring the hospital, my home away from home, I walked past my favorite piece of art adorned on the walls in the lobby of the Oncology ward.  This particular wall decor always seems to catch my eye.  I appreciate creativity and try to search for it wherever I may be.  I can especially appreciate when it’s in unexpected spaces and places.  Well done, St. Joe’s.

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Just two short years ago, Steve and I spent the night at the hospital on Christmas.  It was by far one of the more depressing of holidays.  I feel very fortunate that I will be able to spend this Christmas with my family instead of inside the hospital walls.  However, they do their best to make you feel in the holiday spirit.  To those who will be spending your holiday in the hospital, my Christmas wish is that you are surrounded by love and joy.  It will get better.

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One of my favorite little cheerleaders, Kambrell joined me at the hospital a few days after the procedure.  Seeing things through her eyes and the way she expresses her love for life, makes me feel equally alive.  She is one of the most special little girls I know and I’m so grateful to be a part of her world.

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Just a few of the many gorgeous flowers I received. THANK YOU! I was able to enjoy them everyday and smile thinking of each person and the memories we have shared.  I chose to donate the flowers to the Oncology ward of the hospital once I was released.  They were all so beautiful and I wanted other cancer patients to be able to enjoy them as much as I did.  Please know that your kindness has such an impact and made many others smile, as well as me.

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Last but most certainly not least, my Steve sent this to me the second night, once he returned home to our dogs, Keg and Zoila.  He always knows how to make me laugh, as he was wearing my #ASU hoodie and my satchel to carry Zoila, all in an effort to take Keg on a walk. He takes care of all of us so very well and I am the luckiest person to have such a brave, selfless and loving man.  Thank you seems so insufficient.  What else can I say? You’re top notch, my love.

HospitalLife

More to come soon.

Love,

Britt x

11.30.2015: Pre-Op Video Update

11.30.15 BKO. from Britt Ochoa on Vimeo.

It is safe to say I am fairly numb after today’s visit with one of the surgeons performing my operation on December 3rd, 2015.  My energy levels are pretty low and this is the easiest way for me to communicate with everyone at the moment.  If you’ve messaged, text, called, etc. I’m sorry for not responding — I’ve been a little emotional, as I am sure you can imagine.  But please know your love and kindness has not gone unnoticed.  All thoughts, prayers and good energy is beyond appreciated and I’ll update my blog as soon as possible after surgery on Thursday.

Love forever,

B x

“May the Fourth Be with You” – Happy #4 to My #1:

Steve and Britt, 4 Years

“Let someone love you just the way you are — as flawed as you might be, as unattractive as you sometimes feel, and as unaccomplished as you think you are.  To believe that you must hide all the parts of you that are broken, out of fear that someone is incapable of loving what is less than perfect, is to believe that sunlight is incapable of entering a broken window and illuminating a dark room.” — A Wise Person

I’m not sure of all of my decisions in life, but one thing I know is certain, I loved you from the beginning and I’ll love you for hundreds of years to come.  You are the bravest man I know, keeping my heart forever safe.  Cheers to you, my love, the moon and all the stars, I love you even though you are from Mars.

Happy fourth wedding anniversary, XI.XII.MMXI

(PS- don’t kill me for the title of this post, Steve…it’s just FOUR you!)

Love,

Britt x